Reinventing IDDFL: Implementing a Dance Festival in Lebanon during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Nadra Assaf, Jimmy Bechara, Sarah Fadel, and Amelia Youssef

Figure 1: The main poster of the IDDFL 2020 event

IDDFL was first launched in 2011. Ten years later we found ourselves amidst a global pandemic that came on the tail end of a political revolution and economic disaster in Lebanon. How could we survive and maintain our vision and mission? The answer to this question is the main focus of our article.

IDDFL stands for the International Dance Day Festival in Lebanon. Before we get into details about the festival and its exceptional online edition, it is important that we give some background into who we are and why we are who we are today.

We are a group of people (dancers, dance enthusiasts, supporters of the arts, educators, and so on) who are concerned with dance in Lebanon and its exposure and interaction with dance abroad. Essentially, our goal is to see the Lebanese dance field grow and expand its roots nationally as well as internationally. We comprehend that for our dreams and goals to be continually realized Lebanese dancers need more international connections and educational opportunities, as well as stronger connections and ties to each other locally.

How did we arrive at where we are now?

In 2009, we began work on the idea to create a forum where dancers could connect and  receive training by other dancers and dance institutions. Also, due to the lack of financial resources in the dance community in Lebanon, our objectives were augmented with the need to be able to offer all the services and workshops for free to all participants. In 2011 we saw our initiative come to  life with the implementation of the first  IDDFL.

From our first edition launch in March 2011 until now we have maintained our yearly tradition. We have supported our vision and mission over the last ten years by implementing the following goals: 

  • Enhance public understanding and appreciation of the art form (dance) and its cultural and historical significance.
  • Provide a sound scientific/aesthetic base for professional education and training of young dancers and a forum for integrating and disseminating information on dance education.
  • Expose Lebanese dancers/choreographers/teachers to international work through workshops which are practical as well as lecture based. These workshops are taught by international artists from Europe, United States, Canada, Russia and other countries as well.
  • Encourage and financially support the creation of new dance works by both established and emerging choreographers in Lebanon and the Middle East.
  • Preserve our Lebanese dance heritage through continued presentation of classic works, as well as through archival efforts.
  • Build wider national and international audiences for dance from Lebanon.
  • Enhance public awareness of the area of Byblos and its artistic, historic and geographic
  • Draw the attention of the government to  the need for emphasis, attention and focus on arts 
  • Highlight the need for a higher educational institute where local talents can graduate with a high level of dance expertise, thus allowing for less dependence on foreign talent. 

But is this enough? Before we delve into answers to this question, we will offer a small historic insight into Lebanon and the region in which this dance community struggles to survive.

Historical Background and Issues Facing Dancers in the Region

Figure 2: The Second Poster of the IDDFL 2020 Event

In recent history (past 50 years), Lebanon has survived a 15 year civil war, Syrian occupation and most recently (October 2019) civil unrest that led to a revolution that is still ongoing.  Please note that we will not discuss strife in other countries in the region, we are only highlighting Lebanese turmoil. In spite of all of this strife, many artists continue to create and teach dance and theatre, crossing borders and even risking their lives at times to bring art to the people in the region, both giving opportunities to perform and to witness.  Keeping in mind the current political unrest that is growing within this country and region, how does art play a role to create a certain sense of normalcy, to create a sense of hope, to create a sense of balance when everything else seems to be imbalanced? This is one of the most relevant questions to which IDDFL hopes to give answers and opportunities towards success.

IDDFL began with the intention of expanding the awareness of concert dance in the region, and increasing opportunities for local dancers to work with international professional artists.  The decision to continue the festival in the midst of regional instability comes from a recognition of the need for artistic expression to maintain humanity.  With professional artists coming from the United States, Europe, Africa, The Middle East and more, all with the objective of focusing on dance, and not on politics, how does such a performance festival impact the lives of people living in this instability?  Does developing community through dance help in the face of struggle?  What does an international festival, with the hope of bringing Lebanese dance into a more global sphere, do for local hope and morale? Throughout this paper, we attempt to answer these questions while also highlighting the issues that arose while struggling to uphold the IDDFL traditions during a global pandemic. 

Details of IDDFL 2020 Online Version

On March 29th 2020, the IDDFL launched its 10th edition online. The rationale behind moving forward with an online edition was threefold:

  • To ensure continuity and mark the 10th anniversary of the festival
  • To allow the international guests (4 of whom had been to Lebanon previously) to remain connected to the Lebanese dance community
  • To add something positive to the community during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.


Early February 2020, the committee of IDDFL started sorting out and distributing the work in preparation for the upcoming opening of the festival on March 27th, 2020. This was supposed to have been the 10th anniversary of the festival; however, on March 11th, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was announced as ‘postponed until further notice’. At that time, the committee gave itself multiple date options for rescheduling sometime later in 2020. After conferring with the International guests, no mutually agreed upon date could be found. As time passed, the pandemic evolved into something even bigger than anticipated and due to quarantines, social distancing, travel bans, and global lockdowns, the committee was faced with the decision to either completely cancel the festival or find a suitable alternative. The committee spent time deliberating what to do but found little in means of alternatives to the hands-on-real-time event. 

However, on March 21st, one of the International guests, Rain Ross, contacted the head of the committee with the proposition of doing an online class to “at least mark what could have been the opening of the IDDFL 10th year edition”. In an effort to not let this big milestone go by unnoticed, the committee decided to proceed with this idea and contacted all the international guests of the IDDFL 2020 edition. After many email exchanges, the rest of the guests (Matthew Henley, Beau Hancock, Jessie Levey, and Maxine Steinman) agreed to join Rain Ross’s initiative and help launch a virtual IDDFL version. 

The committee started working like a machine, each had their role to implement and each role led to the implementation of the online version of IDDFL.  Amy was in charge of all logistic communications with the university, Jimmy was in charge of finding a way to make the end performance work while being broadcast live, Nadra was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the structuring and implementation of the final performance from a choreographic perspective, and Sarah was in charge of the social media campaigns, day to day updates, and providing the online platforms/attendees reservations and access to all classes. 

On March 25th 2020, the IDDFL social media accounts were buzzing with teasers for what’s to come and everyone was very excited. The Instagram account went from having 20 profile visits per week to suddenly reaching 560 profile visits. The actual event was launched only one day prior to classes, on March 26th 2020. The page views (Instagram and Facebook) skyrocketed to reach more than 1200 people throughout the week of classes. When asked by one of the guest artists how they felt about the Lockdown and the IDDFL online edition, one attendee said, “I have never been able to attend IDDFL live because I live very far away, and this year I got to attend. I could not be more grateful”.  The result yielded numbers above what the committee was expecting and also in comparison to previous years (see Fig 3 below).

On March 27th, 2020, the first day of the online version of IDDFL, Nadra decided that the festival needed to have an opening ceremony as usual. Thus efforts were put into creating a video to be live streamed on to the Facebook page. The opening ceremony consisted of a pre-recorded message from the creator and director of IDDFL, as well as the launching of a documentary video of IDDFL 2019’s Victoria Hunter Site Specific Project. The documentary was scheduled to be launched in the live version of IDDFL 2020 therefore adding it to the online version was not an issue.

After making sure that the opening (and all classes) would start after 6:00 pm because of the electricity cuts, the opening was online, and people from Lebanon and abroad were watching and cheering the festival on. Two of the more noteworthy comments were: “We’re super excited” commented a previous local teacher at IDDFL, as well as a mother of three dancers who never miss a festival; and, “This makes my heart dance” was the reply from an LAU alum who used to be one of the festival committee members.

Figure 3: The Statistics of the Previous Nine Years of IDDFL

Organization Issues

The organizing committee members usually meet in person once a week during regular IDDFL version and finalize all the details before the event begins. Once the event starts, the committee members distribute the workload. They communicate when need be via phone calls or WhatsApp messages. However, for the IDDFL online version they had to use virtual platforms such as Zoom or Webex to meet and discuss issues such as the launching of the event and plan how to deal with the daily issues.  The nature of online meetings is different because overlaps and quick side talks, which normally happen in physical meetings, are seen as counter-etiquette on online platforms.

Second, in the regular IDDFL version, most of the organizing committee members are on campus and are in touch with each other the whole day regarding any or all issues that arise. In the online version, virtual meetings were set up anytime the need arose keeping in mind that knowledge of the physical whereabouts of the members was not crucial, unlike the regular version where knowledge of presence is needed in order to be able to fix any problem that arises on campus. In the online version, there was only one class per day unlike the regular version where there are multiple classes in each time slot; thus, once the online class started, it was difficult to communicate because all the committee members were attending the same class.  In the regular version, movement between class session and the ability to locate an organizing member’s class to discuss any issue at hand is much easier. In the online version, all details were taken care of ahead of time and if anything arose, the committee had to be creative and think of a possible on the spot solution. 

Third, were the technicalities with the IT department at LAU, and that also proved challenging because of the university being in lockdown mode. In a regular IDDFL version, any technical problems are solved via quick calls or quick visits to the IT department. In the online version, the committee members had to work with IT through emails. Because of the logistics of the entire student body and faculty being online for classes, the IT department was receiving a daily slew of emails and were not able to reply promptly. This caused countless amounts of problems for the organizing committee members when faced with a last-minute problem with the Webex application and the preparation for the final performance. These issues do not happen in the regular IDDFL version.

Finally, documentation proved to be more challenging in IDDFL online than the regular version. Having to take pictures and videos of the performances while they were taking place proved a little challenging to accomplish from home. When trying to create a work environment at home, it is not always possible and feasible as can been seen in the below comments from one of the committee members:

The times of the performances coincided with my partner returning from work and my children getting excited over his arrival. I had to silence them because I needed to watch the performances. I was documenting by taking videos via my iPhone while watching the event on my iPad, so silence was a must which was literally impossible to achieve at home in quarantine with 3 other people. Towards the end of the IDDFL, my family had gotten used to the idea that I have work from 6-8 and they had to be silent.

The Classes

Figure 4: The Poster Announcing the Classes of IDDFL 2020

In order to cater to all attendees with different technological availabilities, and to the hectic quarantine schedule and different time zones of the international guests, the IDDFL 2020 classes were offered in 3 different virtual methods: 

  1. Live class on our social media platforms.
  2. Pre-recorded classes streamed live on our social media platforms
  3. Zoom classes with pre-registration. 

Live Classes on Social Media 

IDDFL 2020 had one live class on our social media and it was given by Rain Ross. Figuring out a way for her to go live on IDDFL pages was hard, seeing as she is not an administrator on the page. So, by adding her as a host to the Facebook event, she was able to go live from her Facebook page unto the IDDFL one. After class was done, the feedback was incredible. One could tell the engagement with her class was great by looking at real-time comments on her live video. Noticing how during class time there were almost no comments being written whatsoever while the counter (where one can tell how many people are watching) had the same number of participants. 

Pre-recorded Classes Streamed Live on Social Media Platforms

Second were the pre-recorded live stream classes, and IDDFL 2020 had one of these. It was very interesting and somewhat different than the live classes on social media because people were able to tag other people to join in the class. The set-up of this class allowed for attendees from all over the world to join in. The class was given by Beau Hancock and streamed live to the Facebook page. One of the negative issues was the weak internet connection in Lebanon, thus streaming this video had to be pushed by an hour to allow for the video to be uploaded to the Facebook page. All attendees were responsive to the delay and waited with enthusiasm and encouragement. Pushing the class an hour made them even more eager to attend.

Zoom classes with pre-registration

The second, third, and fifth classes were given through the Zoom application. Being university professors (and giving online classes through the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world), all the international guests, and committee members were familiar with the use of the application. The guest artist would set up their classroom and then provide the committee with a link to it.  The committee set up a system whereby the potential attendees would, through the social media platforms, ask for access and be provided with the link and password. Not many difficulties were faced while using this platform as it was very easy to navigate.

What was particularly worthy of note was when the first zoom class started (Matthew Henley) and videos of the participants started appearing on the screen, emotions started to rise. Seeing faces of participants who were regular attendees of the festival, from different corners of the country, reminded everyone of the beauty of this festival and how much the Lebanese dance community bonds during the festival time. And, especially this year, with participants making the effort of coming together online during times when some people did not particularly feel very productive, happy, or even creative, was incredibly touching and moving. The international guests were particularly moved and expressed how much they missed everyone and how much seeing “all the familiar faces” brought them joy.

Class Issues

As previously mentioned, IDDFL 2020 (online) was a much more condensed version than the regular live version. Thus, from the perspective of the parents of the younger attendees (ages 3-12) the setting and timing differences were somewhat of a challenge. 

First, the start of the regular IDDFL run is a weekend dedicated to the younger attendees. All the classes are scheduled from the morning until early afternoon thus allowing for each participant to attend many and varied technique classes over the course of the entire weekend.  However, the online version had only one class per day, and it was scheduled on the weekdays instead of the usual weekend slots. Also, the timing during which the classes took place (6-8 pm) were not the optimal time for the younger age group. The online schedule posed its own challenges as we can see from one of the parent’s replies:

Although my daughter has no physical school during quarantine, she has a virtual one with online classes and homework to upload at specific times the day, so my daughter has to abide by her regular schedule: shower, dinner and sleep times before going to bed. Because online IDDFL classes were scheduled during her downtime, it is a little difficult for her to follow them with as much vigor as she would have during the live version because the online classes make her late for her regular routines before sleep. Also, when she did attend classes, she felt tired because for her it was the end of the day.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, the online classes were all age inclusive but not specifically targeted for children. This is not the case during the regular IDDFL schedule. One of the reasons the committee did not adhere to age specificity was the time differences between the US and Lebanon and the logistics involved in holding several online classes with the International guests. Also, since the classes were online this meant that the participants needed to be able to find space in their homes or even their rooms to be able to properly participate. Thus the online set up posed its own challenges as we can see by the feedback of one of the young participants:

There were fewer classes than usual and we can’t choose what to attend. We didn’t go to the event physically; we stayed home and that felt weird.

Closing Ceremony

For the closing performance, the committee wanted to maintain as much as possible the system of the live version. As previously stated, the live version always has an audition on the opening evening and dancers from the community are selected to work on original pieces that are performed at the closing ceremony. Thus, in order to emulate the system of audition, individual messages were sent via email and WhatsApp to all the attendees of the previously held classes. In the message they were asked to send a video of a one-eight count phrase of movement expressing what IDDFL means to them. These videos were submitted to the committee and twenty dancers were selected to be the performers of the closing event. As for the choreographers, since it was the 10th anniversary, the committee head deemed it relevant to use nine choreographers which included the 5 international guests, plus Jimmy Bechara and Sarah Fadel (both are LAU professors as well as committee members) and two of LAU’s alums, Yara Nasrany and Antoine Awad. The selected nine were asked to also provide a one-eight count phrase of choreographed movement by video (tutorial style). These videos were shared with the selected twenty dancers via google drive. The intention of this procedure was to add the nine choreographed phrases to the phrase created by the selected dancers to make the total number of phrases be ten and that would represent ten years of IDDFL. One notable factor was that one of the twenty dancers had not understood that the performance was to be live and thus had to withdraw and the total number became nineteen. These nineteen dancers were then asked to memorize all nine movement phrases in addition to their own. They were also told to expect more directions later. 

When it came to social media and logistics for the final performance, that is when the committee’s teamwork really came in to play. Jimmy and Sarah worked for two days trying to figure out how to possibly stream a live performance from a Zoom platform on to a Facebook page. Amy liaised with the LAU IT office while Nadra worked on coordinating, directing, and scoring the performance. However, due to technical difficulties, the 90 minutes of online rehearsal time was shrunk to only 10 minutes. In the end, all of the hard work paid off as the performance was a success. It was successfully streamed on to Facebook in addition to the closing words from the director, as well as an emotional word from one of Lebanon’s primary dancers: Georgette Gebara. The live stream had 534 views and reached 1330 people. The below comments are from various people who watched the final performance live:

This is so amazing What an amazing experience! I think your brilliant response to our circumstances reflects how humanity continues to adapt and change! It was beautiful and we will get through this...better together!

After the closing performance was done, the IDDFL Instagram page was flooded with wonderful pictures and words from the attendees, here are some of the notable comments:

IDDFL isn’t anymore a festival. IDDFL is a big dance family spreading happiness. See you next year You made it against all odds… This festival genuinely care[s] about the art of dance. It feels like a big warm hug to the dance community from the dance community. Even with this corona lockdown, you bring hope in what you do. [ –] Thank you for everything you do Thank you for showcasing dance in all its beauty. IDDFL, thank you for making my YEAR <3 for the 10th time

Details of the Closing Ceremony Procedure

Before delving into the details of putting the final performance live online, it’s worthy to mention that the words of Albert Einstein “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them” were resonating in our ears throughout the process.

As previously mentioned, the lockdown edition of IDDFL consisted of taking it from classes during the week, to auditioning, rehearsing and performing and putting it all online. Like any other decision in an era of pandemic, time is not a friend. The committee started discussing shifting all the preparations of a normal IDDFL to a virtual one on March 21, as previously stated. And the entire festival dates were changed to March 29 till April 4, instead of March 27-April 4 as had been previously announced. In a time span of eight days, we decided to create and implement our 10th IDDFL edition, which we entitled: Lockdown edition.

Technical Procedure and Issues

We divided the tasks upon the IDDFL committee as we usually do. And Jimmy was in charge of the Gala performance technicalities. After discussing the process of the Gala performance with the head of the committee, it was agreed on aiming for the following: 

  • Each international guest would send us an 8-count phrase filmed (a total of 5 guests- 5 *8-counts)
  • The two dance professors at LAU would film an 8-count phrase as well (a total 7*8-count)
  • The first two performing arts –dance graduates from LAU would add an 8-count phrase each as well (a total of 9*8-counts)
  • The performers would add their own 8-count (a grand total of 10*8-counts performance.)
  • The global theme for those physical material or motion was: What does IDDFL mean to you? 

To be able to bring the 10th Gala performance to life the following challenges had to be taken into consideration and addressed: 

Internal challenges:

  • Which online platform to use for the final delivery.
  • How to go live and deliver an unhindered and flowing experience for the viewers while switching from recorded videos and speeches to live performance.

External challenges:

  • Time: we had 5 days till the Gala performance.
  • We had zero budget.
  • The country was in total lockdown. 

1st Internal Challenge

Jimmy’s part in these challenges was based on the live streaming and procedural elements of the Gala performance. He had to figure out which platform would suit best the combination between the introductory speeches and then switch to the live performance in the same live session on our Facebook page. A lot of research, investigation and trial and error was needed to expand his knowledge in this part of social media as it was not one of his trained fields since in previous IDDFL editions, nothing like this was needed.

Being that he is a professor at the Lebanese American University and was conducting his classes during COVID-19 using WebEx, he knew that there was an option to go directly live from the meeting to the Facebook page. But permission was needed from the LAU administration to allow his account to cast the meeting (where the performance would take place) to the IDDFL Facebook page. This need started the slew of e-mails between Amy and the IT department to request that permission (as previously stated in previous sections). The plus side of using WebEx was that it did not require any extra finances. Thus, WebEx was the first platform that met IDDFL requirements.

As previously outlined, the classes given during IDDFL Lockdown edition were divided into 2 broadcasting sections. Either a recorded video uploaded to the Facebook page or a live class on Zoom (a platform similar to WebEx). While taking classes using Zoom, we, as a committee, acknowledged that the zoom platform delivers a clearer sound than WebEx. After investigating the Zoom Option, we had 2 options: either buy a membership or use the 40 minutes’ free trial. So, Zoom became our second option for the Gala performance.


  • Allows for direct broadcasting of the meeting on the Facebook page
  • It requires permission and a bureaucratic process to get that permission. Thus, more time is needed to be able to test it.
  • No financial expenses.


  • Better sound delivery
  • Financial expenses.
  • 40 minutes trial period only.

2nd Internal Challenge

The Gala performance consisted of two pre-recorded videos and the final live performance. The idea was to have these three entities one after the other in one live event. The committee’s decision was to go live through Facebook as it is the easiest platform for any audience member to attend which created the main challenge: how to connect these three independent parts that are happening on different platforms into one live event Facebook event?

After several hours of research on the various ways which could actually deliver the intended outcome, Jimmy and Sarah decided to work as follows:

  1. Sarah would combine the pre-recorded videos into one concrete video.
  2. Zoom would be the platform of the Gala performance, and the 40 minutes’ free trial basis would be the best option because of the sound delivery and the long process of getting the permission from LAU to go live from WebEx, which as previously stated ended unsuccessfully.
  3. Jimmy would stream his laptop screen on to the Facebook page and coordinate between playing the combined video and switching to, Zoom for the performance while also playing the performance track to allow the dancers to have a unified musical input.

Heads up: it sounds much easier than it was. 

We started testing this process and faced several issues:

  • On one hand, an external microphone was needed to deliver a clear sound for the audience from the videos playing on Jimmy’s laptop for the performers, and on the other hand, to have a clear unified musical input.
  • The environment the laptop was situated in required total silence as each sound the microphone captured would be heard on the live feed.
  • An external speaker was needed to amplify and clean the sound coming out from the laptop.

To visually summarize the whole set up needed, see fig:5 below:

Choreography Procedure and Issues

As previously stated, Nadra was in charge of organizing, scoring and directing the final performance. Prior to the rehearsal that was scheduled for the day of the performance (approximately 2 hours prior to start time), she made sure that all the dancers managed to obtain the videotaped material containing the nine phrases from the choreographers. She also made sure the dancers received the music which was to be used for the performance.  She instructed the dancers to set the movement of the phrases to the rhythmic beat of the music. Her final pre-rehearsal instructions were for the dancers to know the phrases well.

As for her preparation, she spent 5 hours scoring the piece. She had every second accounted for and every dancer had a formatted score that was different than the others. She made sure to account for physical and spatial design even though the dancers were on screen and she had no control over where they would appear on the screen in the live version. She was aware of only having 19 squares in the visual as Jimmy had prepared to show the live version with Zoom set on the multiple screen mode. Finally, she sent each dancer their score via WhatsApp and asked that they rehearse the delivery of the score to the music and be prepared for the rehearsal. It seemed like all would work as planned. 

However, no one had accounted for the possibility of an internet issue. Nadra was not able to connect to WebEx or Zoom to be able to hold rehearsal. After wasting 45 minutes of the precious 90-minute rehearsal, she gave up and decided to let Sarah attempt the rehearsal without her. Nadra remained in contact with Sarah as she allowed the dancers to work through the scores and the music. Jimmy was also at the rehearsal attempting to try the various ways in which he could manage all the variables and still allow the dancers to hear the music and show their capabilities to the online world.

Since the rehearsal time had been cut short, everyone was scrambling to get dressed and get back online in time for the show to begin. Thankfully the performance was slotted to start after the speeches. Time was a major factor in IDDFL 2020 Lockdown Edition, it might even be considered in parallel to the time being spent worldwide to maintain humanity during the global pandemic.

In the end, the performance took place. Everyone was happy and smiling while doing the best they could in the face of difficulties. Committee members were delighted, exhausted and tearful. They also received numerous comments from viewers and participators. Below are a few examples:

You are the Brilliant. You made the first live online performance done in 1 day. Brilliant! Always creative and as strong as ever♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️ an IDDFL edition that will forever be remembered! I loved it so much!! It was sooo creative and smart and unique. I'm so impressed and grateful for this edition 🖤🖤 it made me really happy. And it was an honor to have my name down with all the artists 🤗🤗🤗🤗 i love you so much and thank you 🖤🖤🖤

Overall Feedback from the Committee Members

Figure 6: The Poster of the IDDFL 2020 Campaign


I am the only non-dancing committee member and the way I view IDDFL is different because I do not understand the body as much as the rest of the members or participants, but I appreciate dance and performers. The lockdown edition was about logistics from home which to me was unusual because I am used to running around and fixing things on the spot here and there. IDDFL 2020 taught me that anything is doable and when teamwork and determination exist, the outcome is pure creation. A relative was watching the Gala with me on my Ipad. She was overwhelmed and said, “Wow, whoever did this is so creative!” This IDDFL edition set the bar high for all of us and taught us to persevere not matter the challenges.

With all the challenges, the online version proved to be a must because not implementing a version of IDDFL would have been a devastation to the community and the commemoration of the IDDFL 10th anniversary. I believe we succeeded in highlighting that there should always be a contingency plan for going forward and not yielding to obstacles such as COVID-19.


When I was doing my graduate studies in dance at Sarah Lawrence College back in 1987, I chose my area of investigation to be ‘dance in unconventional spaces’. This idea was somewhat new at the time and would later evolve into a domain we now know as site-specific dance. If someone had told me then that there would come a day where I would be teaching classes in an even more ‘unconventional’ type of space than the physical ones I was choosing, I would not have believed them. If someone had told me that there would be a time in the future where I would be contained in my room with a laptop– I doubt I would have even been able to envision that– connected to my dancers via something known as the internet and I would be teaching movement classes, I would have thought I was being fed the stories made up for science fiction screen plays such as those on Star Trek and Star Wars. But alas, this happened, and I was one of many who worked vigorously to implement it.

Regardless of the successful implementation of IDDFL 2020 and dancing online, I still find this surreal. Maybe it is my age, maybe it is my years of experience with my body or maybe it is just the absurdity involved in how the body is being contained. As one of my best friends (and also my dance partner) Heather Harrington had to say on her social media, “Why is it called social distancing? It is physical distancing...has the body, the real body been taken out of the picture? It is a physical body near, next to another body”.  And that is so true, why has the body been made a secondary item?


I took part of the International Dance Day Festival-Lebanon from its first edition 10 years ago. My participation varied across the years from participant to choreographer to committee member. The IDDFL committee usually works by task division, where each member takes responsibility for at least one section of the festival development tasks. My part usually involves making sure that the technicalities of the classes, or performances are well met.

In a normal environment and IDDFL process, my work consists of making sure that the sound is working, the cues are exact, hanging hammocks for aerial classes, and various technical challenges. In short, it is very similar to stage manager definition. For that part of the challenge, I had accumulated through my years of dancing, choreographing and stage managing various shows a good amount of experience to solve a decent amount of problems that might occur during a staged performance or adapting to various performative locations. 

The gala performance is usually formed by the work that each international guest did with the dancers throughout the week. Each choreographer works with the dancers chosen after the auditions to build a performance throughout the week of IDDFL. And the gala performance is the summation of all this work of the various international guests and presented either in an outdoor or an indoor stage. It has varied throughout the 9 years of IDDFL 

It is in challenges like these which we have discussed throughout this paper that we must focus on both learning from and ultimately improving. Knowing that the amount of achievement a team can reach is far beyond that of single individuals is crucial to team ethic. This is similar to what is happening in the world today with the global pandemic. As Simon Sinek says “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” It is through various scales that we, as a human species evolve. It starts from the micro scale of each individual and the potential of growth that each and every one of us possesses. But that individual growth has a very clear limitation: the time of the individual vs the capacity of growth. To overcome this limitation and to move towards the macro scale of this growth that is known as teamwork, the major tool need to be present in the equation is trust.


Personally, this experience helped me not only on the physical/movement level, but as a human being in general. Every year, when IDDFL closes, I express how much it has changed me. But this year was different. The stress of making it all happen in such a short amount of time, the need to constantly be available online to answer all questions, to post updates, to make sure the information that everyone needs is with them sooner rather than later, the internet connection problems, staying in contact with each international guest to get the information we need (while they are on a very different time zone), to make sure they are online, and available, etc, all of that was exhausting and draining; but, it was definitely worth it. Opening that first Zoom class, seeing all the faces, seeing Matt’s face, moving with everyone from afar and getting that feel of unity, solidarity, and togetherness, brought tears to my eyes more than once. Knowing that the work we are doing is making a change, is affecting someone’s life, and making this situation (COVID-19 containment) a little more tolerable was definitely worth all the stress and fatigue.

In addition to that, working with the committee was equally rewarding as we worked together like a very well-oiled machine. We learned from each other, we helped one another, and we occasionally got mad at each other, but that was all because of the highly stressful situation we were in.

When one of the audience members wrote on social media during the final performance: “This is making my heart dance” it really resonated with me because I knew that audience member and I knew she was attending live from London. The resonation was due to the fact that I had missed 3 years of IDDFL because of pursuing my postgraduate degree abroad. I was very aware of the fact that when IDDFL time would come around, I would stay clear of all social media because it hurt not being able to attend. IDDFL is such an amazing opportunity because it is built on the premise of offering high calibre movement classes for free to a whole community, the Lebanese dance community. This year, IDDFL going online was a plus, especially to those who are based abroad. It was, in fact, a way to continue to bring the community together, to move together, and to breathe together.


According to Hanna (1993) humans cannot act without sensing and from where does sensation come if not from the body? We, the authors of this paper, all work in the Middle East where in most of the region the body has dire restrictions. The body does not have the freedom of expression it is afforded in the West, yet most of the Middle Eastern countries strive to enhance their cultural existence through performing arts such as Dance and Theater. This is what we do in IDDFL every year. Western researchers, philosophers and educators such as Barbara Sellers-Young, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Konstantin Stanislavski, Thomas Hanna, Mark Johnson and Howard Gardner and more, have offered the world insights into the importance of the body-mind connection though the Middle East is lacking in such studies. Another area of the IDDFL mission is to address this lack and hopefully continue to redress the issue.

Finally, audience reactions are directly linked to embodied knowledge. We believe that audiences in the Middle East need a lot more awareness and education. We know that in communication, when the code is not known, the information (no matter how elaborate) is simply: noise. The feelings an audience member develops while watching movement is referred to as kinesthetic empathy. Kinesthetic empathy is actually the knowledge one has of the movement see and what that makes them feel. Michael Polanyi‘s assertion: “we know more than we can tell”, puts this in the context of “tacit knowledge” (2009). This knowledge amasses in our bodies over time, and is often referred to as body or muscle memory and is a motivating principle in somatics. Thus through reference to our past embodied experiences, we infer what others mean verbally as well as physically. According to Foster “… these patterns represent a way of knowing in a given cultural context, a form of embodied knowledge” (2011). We believe that over the last ten years, IDDFL has helped in building better and larger audiences in dance. We hope to continue our vision and mission and, we believe that we will. Managing a 10th anniversary edition amid COVID-19 global pandemic and local Lockdown only helps in solidifying this belief.

Note: All the authors of this paper are Professors at the Lebanese American University. They are also the members of the IDDFL 2020 committee. The IDDFL 2020 posters were designed by Alex Abdallah.

Works Cited

Global Leadership Summit 2018. Accessed April 2020.

Grindrod, Peter. 2014. Mathematical underpinnings of analytics: theory and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newberry, Amanda. 2015. Articulous. May 6. Accessed April 15, 2020.

Polanyi, Michaal. 2009. The Tacit Dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. 1993. Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid Movement. Rochester VT: Healing Arts Press.

Foster, Susan Leigh. 2011. Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance. London: Routledge.

Sinek, Simon. 2016. Together is Better: A little Book of Inspiration. London: Penguin Random House.


Selected Articles about IDDFL